Meet Father Michael, a priest and pastoral counselor from the Diocese of Omaha, Nebraska, who uses YouTube as a resource to reach parishioners and others in need of a word of encouragement. A priest is usually trying to meet the responsibilities in a parish and his commitment to care for the needs of individuals, families and small groups. Counselors and pastors are beginning to realize the power of media to reach clients and parishioners. The internet has become a resource and platform to promote new ideas and techniques. It can even be used to bring people back to the church. Father Michael utilizes the idea of living in the present moment and the reading of scriptures as a tool in reducing stress and anxiety. He encourages listeners to rest in the word of God, and to not be afraid. He challenges us to conform to God’s word in scripture and avoid the temptation to conform to the world. This is a good example of how to transfer a clinical strategy into a pastoral counseling intervention, especially because it promotes the ideas presented in a mindfulness approach within the context of our Christian traditions. Father Michael introduces our Catholic faith as a resource and states, “Jesus gave us the freedom to make our own decisions.”
In clinical counseling there has been an increase in practicing mindfulness as an intervention. Mindfulness is an approach designed to focus the client’s attention on the present experience in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness has its root in Eastern techniques like Buddhist meditation. Even though Father Michael is not consciously using mindfulness, his approach reflects some of the same ideas. Through mindfulness, a counselor assists a client to become aware of thoughts and emotions that may be causing stress. Then the counselor guides the client to shift the focus from stressful thoughts and emotions and accept the present situation without judgment. Once the client brings the attention back to the present moment, then the individual can be more relaxed and continue the activity at hand.
Father Michael’s approach to pastoral counseling is not limited to the care of one individual. His view of the pastoral visit is expanded to include different environments and ministering to a group of people instead of only one parishioner at a time. The traditional view of a pastoral visit is for a priest to go to a hospital or a nursing home, or meet with parishioners in an office; and pastoral counseling is normally associated with a representative of the church, like a priest, religious sister or a lay person assigned to the position by the pastor.
Because of this the individual characteristics and the personality of the pastoral counselor often permeate into the approach and techniques used. In my opinion, it is important to be authentic and utilize the gifts that you have as a person in the process of counseling. In this manner the dialogue will flow naturally and the client will receive honest, caring communication, which facilitates an intimate encounter between the pastoral counselor and the client. In his book, Strategic Pastoral Counseling, Benner discussed the importance of flexibility when structuring a pastoral counseling session in order to account for differences in individual styles of counselors. He stated that it is necessary to involve “the expression of a counselor’s personality because no two counselors should ever be expected to work in precisely the same way” (2003, p.57).
My experiences around different priests, deacons and lay ministers reflect the reality of the previous statement. Therefore, I believe that pastoral counseling looks as unique as the counselor and the needs of the individual or group of individuals requesting assistance. This is reflected by Father Michael, who has a passion for music and utilizes it to reach young and not so young people in his parish. Because one of his gifts is music, he can incorporate this into his pastoral counseling approach. He created a ministry called Ablaze, which is a prayer meeting to help individuals know and experience friendship with the Holy Spirit through a lifestyle of praise, worship, and adoration of his Eucharistic Heart. Father Michael’s approach to pastoral counseling is to develop relationships with parishioners and empower them to develop relationships with each other. Ablaze is open to anyone in the community in need of hope, strength and resources for daily living. This ministry was born as an inspiration of Luke 12:49 – “I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already Ablaze.” More information about this ministry can be found at: http://www.ablazeworship.org